Grand old lady

It has been a while since my last writing and that one was a little morbid. Sadly this one is not much more cheerful and is really just of interest to the family.

We learnt yesterday that Fritzie Cronjé passed away. She was part of our lives since our birth and has always been a very special guest and friend to the three Naudé kids.

Her story is a fascinating one. After school she took a secretarial course at college and found herself appointed as secretary to a powerful freight company executive, based in Cape Town. She excelled in her work and was promoted to senior secretary. While working for him in the foreshore she would see the freight and passenger ships entering and leaving the harbour and a young lady’s fantasies were stimulated.

She started saving every cent and within three years she had enough to go on her first overseas journey. In those days (before the war) an international journey by ocean liner was such a significant investment that one rarely spent less than a month away, and that’s what she did. Her first European expedition lasted for three months and covered England and Italy.

She was hooked. From that time onwards she undertook regular overseas trips. Her boss joined the government and became a Director-General and insisted that she move to Pretoria with him. She did and she initially stayed in a boarding house in Pretoria West while she found more permanent accommodation.

At this boarding house in 1948 she met a dashing young man called Fanie Naudé who was engaged to a gorgeous young girl called Danny Madden. The three of them struck up a friendship that lasted for 53 years until my father died. Soon after the young couple got married and set up home they invited Fritzie for Sunday lunch and so a life-long tradition was born.

Every Sunday from as far back as I can remember, Fritzie came to lunch – usually fresh from a trip overseas. She would regale us with stories of her trips, the sights, sounds, peculiarities, customs, world views and insights. She was a most fascinating raconteur. She always sent us a post-card from far-flung capitals and then explained to us kids what was depicted in the photo once she got back.

Her professional career was stellar. Utterly reliable, astute and well informed she shot through the civil service ranks even after her boss left. She became a senior administrator and regularly travelled to Cape Town when parliament was in sitting. Eventually she ran the Pretoria office.

She never married and spent her time attending theatre, opera and ballet performances in addition to researching her next visit. Jet-powered flight changed her life and she embraced the new technology completely. She is the best travelled person I knew. She was one of the first ordinary tourists to visit Russia after the 1989 thaw. Australia was one of the few countries she did not visit. She had a travelling companion whose name I forget and she had several correspondents across the globe with whom she kept contact for many years.

She was a very well read person and always perfectly groomed, in touch with the latest developments and entirely bilingual – which made her a great asset in the civil service at that time. She retired at the age of 60 (as the rules stipulated) and after three months they asked for her to come back and resume her old duties on a contract basis because no one else could do the job. She worked for another 11 years! Eventually she worked only mornings, but the additional income fuelled her wanderlust and she continued travelling until insurance would no longer cover her (because of her age). Completely self-sufficient at all times she drove her own car until she was into her 80s.

Her state pension was significant and kept her well looked after in a good care facility in Pretoria. I saw her the day before Jules and I left for NZ and although very frail she was dressed to the nines, hair perfectly done and still as alert and informed as always – at 92. She was worried (at that stage) about a cancer risk, but in the end she had a bad fall and after a minor operation died in her bed. One of the first things I did when I arrived in Auckland was to send her a postcard – I am not sure if she got it.

She was a truly grand old lady who lived a full and varied life. She traveled the world in style and shared her wonderful experiences and warm personality with us every week and the family will miss her tremendously.

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5 Responses to Grand old lady

  1. nellie says:

    Dear Steph, thank you so much for this obituary. You have a wonderful memory and a superb way with words. I am amazed that Tannie Fritzie lived so long. She must have been happy. I think one of her friends was called Lilly.

  2. karie says:

    Long live Tannie Fritz in all our hearts. K

  3. Ash says:

    What a beautiful and moving tribute.

  4. Sally says:

    Inspiring !

    Thanks for sharing the memories.

  5. Trudi says:

    Inspiring Steph! I also remember Fritzie visiting for lunch on Sundays at the Hotel.

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